The true story of the Newcastle United takeover that ‘shattered the pattern of the times’ – John Gibson

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The bloody two-year power battle that sparked modern Newcastle United’s rise to the very pinnacle of English football is one of the greatest sporting dramas of all time. It was a People Power triumph never seen before in the game’s elite and stands as a monument to what fans can achieve when they are organized and totally determined.

A once-famous, indebted institution eyeing relegation to the former Third Division has risen from the ashes of despair to become Premier League runners-up for two consecutive seasons, their highest position for 69 years. However, the rebirth of a club over 100 years old was a titanic struggle against an unwavering board that believed it was there by birthright and would stay that way.

No one went quietly and the war was both bloody and long but fought with a passion and determination for which the Geordies are renowned. It was a one and only chance to change the course of time. The Magpie group were formed by Sir John Hall in the late 80s after disillusioned supporters rebelled and they led the club’s democratization campaign.

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Now the mighty power struggle has been recorded for posterity by those fighting within in a book commissioned by Sir John “before the facts of a sea change in football were blurred and lost by the time passing by”. A book launch at a Quayside restaurant saw the Magpie group reunite when Hall told me: “We broke the pattern of the time. A small group of elite families used to figure out what was going on. was going on at the majority of football clubs in their right including Newcastle but we challenged that and beat it and it was unique in that respect.

“Today is very different. Billionaires own Premier League clubs and the ordinary fan doesn’t have the power that we have harnessed and used to change the history of Newcastle United. I like to think that the Magpie Group is the father of the modern NUFC.”

The story is told through the eyes of a select group of disciples. There are those who were the essence of the assembled power base – the late Malcolm Dix ​​who did so much to push Sir John into reluctant action; John Waugh and Alan Rooney who led the buying of shares for countless people across the country; and myself who spearheaded the campaign to win the hearts and minds of the public through the Chronicle while holding clandestine meetings with United board members to see if there was common ground .

Some of those who were there now reside across the world but have brought their memories. Austin Science, Magpie Group attorney, currently in Israel; businessman Trevor Scott who emigrated to Australia; and Joe Robertson, a prominent Tyneside personality who was involved early on in the Magpie band and left for Monaco’s glamorous lifestyle. The perspective of one of those who recorded the action, Ian Lennox of Tyne Tees Television, produces another angle on the story in the making.

“I’m grateful to each and every one of them,” Hall insisted. “Everyone played a crucial role. I may have been the figurehead, but it was a team effort. We would never have succeeded without the individual strengths of everyone in the Magpie group. ”

Sir John has always insisted: “The epitaph on my headstone should read ‘he never wanted to own a football club’. I was simply meant to be the catalyst for a fan takeover.”

At first, the Magpie Group had little chance of success by outsiders, but the sheer audacity of some of their decisions shocked the administrators in their bunker, and the tide slowly turned. While Sir John was the necessary figurehead, he gathered around him a strong and diligent team, each with a specific role to play in the operation. Hall’s idea was to give the club entirely to the fans, but when they failed to issue a share issue, mainly because they did not trust the current board, he was forced to move in himself.

“What changed the whole landscape forever happened in 1991,” John explained. “My wife Mae and I were on a world tour and during dinner in Hong Kong I received a phone call from our son Douglas saying Newcastle were going bankrupt. The bank had pulled the plug because the club had used a loan £1m buy players when it was strictly not part of the deal This phone call cost me £685,000 and I had to take the club back to protect myself.

The end result was the formation of The Entertainers, which captured the imagination of every neutral football fan in the country, and the construction of a beautiful modern stadium. Over £70million was spent to rejuvenate St James Park which in 1966 was deemed unfit to stage World Cup final matches.

Less than three decades later, the cathedral on the hill had become just that. Filled to capacity with 52,000 fans. After building the MetroCentre, Sir John had the expertise and the vision to transform an old, ramshackle and dilapidated stadium into what was at the time one of the best in the country.

It was a unique challenge as it was a living stadium in a city centre. It could not be closed but the idea was to create a major landmark in the city and a tourist attraction. Both have been achieved. However, there was a race against time to set the stage for the 1993-94 season opener against Spurs. The workers, mostly United fans, worked 24/7. It was a labor of love. The club even turned on the floodlights so they could work through the night.

The deadline was met in the skin of the teeth. The fire officer was not going to allow TV cameras into their area just before kick-off because a door was missing. A carpenter was found in a jiffy. Kevin Keegan, Sir John Hall, his directors and general manager Freddie Fletcher worked just as quickly to build a team that propelled Newcastle to the top of the Premier League with bold signings and outrageous football.

The audacity was striking. Keegan, a club legend as a player, lived in retirement in Spain and had never managed a football club before United called up. Under his leadership on the pitch, the board backed a series of record buys culminating in a world record £15million to bring Alan Shearer home.

A fairy tale was complete. We pray it will be again all these years later after another major takeover. The early signs are good and no one is more thrilled than the original man who changed history.

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